NPR hails Johnathan Blake as “the ultimate modernist.” The drummer seldom has a moment to spare; his longstanding tenure in the bands of Tom Harrell, David Sanchez, Russell Malone and Kenny Barron – not to mention sideman work with dozens of others – makes his time a limited and highly sought-after commodity.
Johnathan was born and raised in Philadelphia, and drew early inspiration from his father, the violinist John Blake, Jr. The drummer picked up his instrument at age ten, and began composing soon thereafter. These formative experiences imbued Johnathan with the Philadelphia sound, which was described in a JazzTimes review of his debut album, The Eleventh Hour (Sunnyside), as “the vertiginous sensation of being both slightly behind the beat and hurtling into the next measure.” It wasn’t long until he found himself representing that sound the bandstand with Oliver Lake Big Band, Roy Hargrove and David Sanchez, all while still a student at William Paterson University.
Yet Johnathan has made it a priority to carve out time to lead his own ensemble, and to develop it into an ensemble “with a sound.” We’ve presented Johnathan’s own projects over a dozen times since 2004, and the drummer recently celebrated the release of The Eleventh Hour, on our stage. This Saturday, Johnathan returns to The Jazz Gallery with an augmented quartet line-up, featuring saxophonist Mark Turner, the pianist Kevin Hays, and a long-time rhythm section accomplice, the bassist Ben Street.
You can stream “Freefall,” a track from that recording, via a previous post from Jazz Speaks, and learn about the miscommunication that led to the tune’s name. Johnathan’s version of Robert Glasper‘s canvas, which features the pianist and original saxophonist Mark Turner, can also be streamed courtesy of NPR. We also recommend checking out this interview via WBGO’s The Checkout.